Thursday, July 18, 2013

An Act of Thanksgiving in the War on Entitlement

A sense of entitlement is one of the greatest enemies to the spiritual life. When we cease to give thanks for everything as a gift from God, we cease to be truly Eucharistic. The priestly flow of offering-receiving-thanking is interrupted when we come to think of ourselves as in any way entitled.

It is precisely this entitlement mentality that sits at the heart of many of the world’s injustices. Those who have great riches, power, and privilege are unlikely ever to share these gifts or use them for the Gospel’s sake if they think of them as personal possessions. Those who seek what they do not have are tempted to grasp them by right, rather than affirm them as gifts offered to all people by God.

What is needed is a regular practice of humility and gratitude in prayer, restoring the Eucharistic and priestly dimension to our daily life through intentional acts of regular gratitude to God.

Unfortunately, our era is not particularly adept in this sort of prayer. We are often far more focused on rights and demands than on humility and gratitude. Perhaps this is why contemporary church life seems so mired in ideological battles rather than gripping the imaginations and hopes of many people. Yet, this can easily change when faithful Christians began to pray humbly.

As is so often the case, we are well served here to cast our hearts and eyes over the treasury of Christian experience. Here, we meet forms of prayer that at first seem odd, even uncomfortable, but (when given time to speak to us) reveal a wisdom our own era lacks. Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, writing in the 16th and 17th centuries, did exactly this.

Andrewes combined passages from the Sacred Scriptures, the writings of the Early and Medieval Church, as well as his own experience as a Christian and a pastor in order to create rich prayers contemplating the deeper mysteries of our faith. He also reflected on his own struggles with pride, covetousness, lust, anger, &c., so that his work tells of a truly lived Christianity…not a “theoretical” faith.

Below is an adaptation of one of Andrewes’ Acts of Thanksgiving. Try praying it deeply. Don’t get “hung up” on the language of being a sinner—so uncomfortable to those schooled in self-esteem—but allow the truth of one’s complete lack of entitlement to speak to your soul. Be freed by accepting all as a gift. Come before God without any sense of deserving anything, so that you may embrace the absolute, the extraordinary gift of your life, your knowledge of God, your salvation in Christ, and all God’s blessings (known and unknown, desired and unwanted, remembered and forgotten).

Make this a regular part of prayer, so that gradually—and by God’s grace alone—all sense of entitlement in your life may be exposed and eradicated. Then, the Gospel will shine through you as it does the glass of a window…giving light to all who encounter you, and illuminating your soul with received joy.

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An Act of Thanksgiving for God’s Blessings

My soul praises the Lord for the good things he has done
   [here, add specific thanksgivings].
Day by day, for these your mercies unto me, which I remember,
   and for others, exceedingly numerous,
   forgotten by reason of their multitude and by reason of my forgetfulness
Those given when I am willing, knowing, asking;
   those given when I am not asking, unaware, unwilling:
I confess and give thanks to you,
I bless and praise you as is due every day,
   and with all my soul and mind I vow:
Glory to you, O Lord, glory to you,
Glory to you and glory to your all-holy Name
For all your divine perfections:
For your inexpressible and unimaginable goodness and mercy
   to sinners and the unworthy,
And to me, of all sinners altogether the most unworthy:
   yes, O Lord, for these and for the rest
Glory and praise and blessing and thanksgiving
   by the voices and concert of voices,
   both of angels and humans and
   of all your saints in heaven and of
   all your creation whether in heaven or on earth,
      or under their feet,
Of me, the unworthy and miserable sinner,
   your lowly creature,
Both now, in this day and hour,
   and every day unto my last breath,
   and unto the end of the world
   and for ever and ever. Amen
-- adapted from “A Particular Thanksgiving” by Bp. Andrewes

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